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Abstract:

Smart Start Pop-Up Play Clubs is a innovative approach to Early Childhood Education that takes inspiration from well established child based learning systems such as Reggio Emilia and Montessori Schooling. The Learning System took form through many months of both traditional and spatial research to understand how a learning system can truly benefit a community. Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach suggests that the “environment is the third teacher”, meaning that our learning spaces should aid and instruct learning, not just act as a housing unit. The Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches also both suggest that the child is capable of being in charge of their own learning. This transfer of learning as the responsibility of the adult to the child has been a major factor in the design of these learning spaces. Giving children agency over their own education at such a early age sets them up to view learning and education as an adventure rather than a chore. The design drivers that guided the project forward are varied and include research elements such as behavioral theory, early learning milestones, and play-based learning as well as spatial design principles such as color theory, biophilic design, sensorial qualities. These multi-disciplinary drivers made for diverse and varied needs that created interesting challenges and fulfilling breakthroughs throughout the design process.

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The Question: How might we inspire and engage young children and their families in the process of learning experientially? The Answer: Through a hybrid of experiential design and early childhood education research that aims to makes play based early learning more equitable and accessible.

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The Research The project is a culmination of two semester of work. The summer of 2020 was spent researching and asking questions about what our project could be. After deciding to focus on Education I became very aware of the early child education (ECE) need in the United States. The following research and data on this page is a collection of statistics gathered about the state of Early Learning in the United States as well as the insights and gathered through many types of Design Thinking exercises. This also goes over the main problems that I am looking to solve for and the answer I proposed that drove my design decisions.

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The Context While I believe there are many different contexts and uses for the playclubs I have decided to highlight their use within suburban high need areas. When looking for micro sites for the playclubs I used data that showed where ECE desserts were within the Cincinnati Region. After choosing five of the highest need areas I developed a schedule that allowed for each neighborhood to have a playclub presence daily throughout the five day week. I am also proposing this project as a partnership with Head Start to be able to have guidance and funding for the project.

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The Context While I believe there are many different contexts and uses for the playclubs I have decided to highlight their use within suburban high need areas. When looking for micro sites for the playclubs I used data that showed where ECE desserts were within the Cincinnati Region. After choosing five of the highest need areas I developed a schedule that allowed for each neighborhood to have a playclub presence daily throughout the five day week. I am also proposing this project as a partnership with Head Start to be able to have guidance and funding for the project.

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The System

The Mobile Unit

Within Green spaces

Within Cincinnati

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Reasoning

Design Drivers After taking into account much of my early research I wanted to come up with a unifying design language for the projects. Developing the branding and design drivers really helped to center my project and bring continuity to all of the aspects of the playclubs.

From my research, I found that Early Learning is not about learning more earlier, ... It’s about developing the emotional, social, and behavioral skills needed for life. Therefore, Instead of basing my Playclubs off of traditional learning goals such as Reading or mathematic milestones, My playclubs focus on skills such as:

- Empathy - Self-Control - Perseverance - Confidence - Respect - Patience - Communication

- Compromise - Body Language - Acceptance - Team Work - Leadership - Motivation - Conflict-Resolution

After Choosing groups of these attributes to focus on I looked into color theory and animal attributes that aligned with the traits. I then used these colors and animal guidelines to develop branding, storytelling, and spatial design considerations for each of the play clubs. The attributes and branding can be seen to the right.

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The Gecko Club

Language + Communication + Self-Expression

The Octopus Club

Creativity + Culture + Artistic-Expression

The Guppy Club

Relationships + Empathy + Teamwork

The Meerkat Club

Exploration + Problem Solving + Courage

The Cub Club

Confidence + Independence + Self-Esteem

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Diagrammatic Explorations To begin the spatial design aspect of the capstone project I began by creating a series of diagrams to explore potentialities of the small footprint. I began by looking at qualities that I was interested in such as lighting, color, and Opacity. I then explored several qualities from Richard Serra’s Verb List, a few include Wrapping, Stretching, and draping. After developing the language for these individual diagrams I began mixing and layering the diagrams together to understand how these qualities can mix and work together. The following pages show some of the culminating fusion diagrams the became the springboard for many of my final design decisions.

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The Mobile Unit When developing the housing unit for my playclubs I considered many different options from a retired city bus fleet to inflatable architecture. I landed on a design/build unit that fits onto a 28’ trailer base. This will allow for maximum flexibility and possible long term instillation as it works as a stand alone unit that does not require a professional driver. The unit has a narrow bas floor plan of 225 sq ft but unfolds on both sides for a gross square footage of 460 sq ft. The unit opens to the public through an unfolding of the side panles as well as through an exterior canopy on bearing wheels that allows the space to expand into a welcoming community establishment.

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Play Animation

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The Question:

How might we inspire and engage young children and their families in the process of learning experientially? The Answer:

Through a hybrid of experiential design and early childhood education research that aims to makes play based early learning more equitable and accessible.

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Major Design Focuses Along with the previously mentioned design drivers of behavioral attributes, color theory, and animal branding + storytelling. These design focuses had a large impact on designing the final play clubs.

Sensory Design

Fine Motor Skills

Gross Motor Skills

Multi sensory engage children and lead to a greater sense of exploration and wonder. Designing for all fives senses makes for a much more inclusive and and engaging learning experience.

Fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscles, in movements— usually involving the synchronization of hands and fingers—with the eyes. These skills are imperative for these young learners and their growth.

Similar to fine motor skills, gross motor skills deal with the mobility of large muscle groups and include skills such as climbing, running, and jumping. These gross skills are important for mobility and confidence in children.

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The Gecko Club Language Communication Self-Expression

The Gecko club is based off of the skills to enhance the students interpersonal communication skills. I decided that creating a mobile library for the students to inhabit and play in would be strong way to influence these skills. Having a fun environment to introduce a library setting to these children will build positive associations with learning environments and literary interactions. While there would be an associated curriculum for the club, one of the strengths of the Gecko Club would be the interactions that parents and caretakers would be able to share with their children.

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Custom Designed Elements

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The Octopus Club Creativity Culture Artistic-Expression

While the Octopus Club is based around all forms of creative expression the spatial design most closely identifys with the music and dance elements of creativity. All of the play, sensory, and motor skills elements are designed with sonic quality in mind. The large spiral in the center works both as climbing play structure and sounds tunnel. The tubes on the fixed side of the mobile unit are chimes that play different tones depending on diameter and length. The Club also encourages play to extend beyond the footprint of the stairs by being a sonic presence to a wide audience.

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Custom Designed Elements

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The Guppy Club Relationships Empathy Team Work

The Guppy club has a large uniting element of the central rope climb that give children the opportunity to understand spatial relationships beyond the traditional interpersonal role. While understanding these relationships better can be an asset to growth, the sensory tubs designed in the shape of ocean rocks are a very flexible element that can be used in variety of manners. The sensory pods can be filled with a variety of sensory inducing materials: water, sand, marbles, soil, ect. This combination of physical relationship and interpersonal team work allows for many different experiences within the space.

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Custom Designed Elements

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The Meerkat Club Exploration Problem Solving Courage

The Meerkat Club is the most physical of the play clubs and allows for problem solving to happen at both the physical and mental levels. The two different types of climbing walls allow for the child to explore different physical way to move through space and improve tactical problems solving as well as hand - eye coordination. The tunnels in the center of the club allow for a different kind of problem solving that requires the use of logic and mental visualization. Overall the space invites the users to become fully immersed in the way that they engaging with their physical environment.

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Custom Designed Elements

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The Cub Club

Confidence Independence Self-Esteem The Cub Club invites users to engage with a multi-purpose panel maze. The System is comprised of four unique panels that all provide different learning opportunities. There is a fine motor skills panel that provides a tactile experience with items such as ribbons, beads, gears, and waited elements. There is a mirrored panel to reflect and allow children to understand the way their bodies and emotions look in real time. A sensory curtain that allows for understanding of mass and void, and partially opaque acrylic panel that allows for partial visibility The way that these panels attach allow for them to be arranged in an infinite number of possibilities for maximum flexibility

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Custom Designed Elements

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Other Possible Contexts While the programmatic answer that is proposed could be one solution, I believe that there are many contexts and scales that the smart start system could be appropriate for. One of the reasons that the smart start solution is mobile is so that is is able to reach needs in the urban, suburban, and rural contexts. Here is a collection of other sites that are possibilities to host the mobile schools, from abandoned shopping malls to the moon.

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Callie Forsythe | Interior Design Capstone Project DAAPworks 2021, University of Cincinnati Capstone Advisors Research: Edson Cabalfin Design: Gregory Marinic

Profile for SAID BS-Interiors

Callie Forsythe  

Callie Forsythe  

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